YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Cohen & Company plans to double the staff in its Youngstown office over the next several years. Already, the Cleveland-based accounting firm is on target to meet that goal, which its leadership attributes to community outreach and a strong relationship with Youngstown State University.
“Our ability to tap into partnerships and build, develop and retain our teams here is what’s driving us to double our [Youngstown] office over the next few years,” says Chris Bellamy, president of the firm.
Cohen & Company has grown “substantially” in the 22 years that Bellamy has been with the company. Sophisticated accounting technology is one reason, he says, which enables the firm to work with clients across the country.
The firm was founded in 1977 and opened its Youngstown office in 1983. At the 10 offices it operates in seven states, 650 are employed. When Bellamy was hired in 1999, he says there were 120 employees.
“Our collaborative culture is fueled by our ability to attract and develop great talent,” he says. “…We’re excited to create opportunities for a talented local workforce as well as identify boomerangs looking for the right opportunity to return to the region.”
In Youngstown, about 90% of the employees are YSU graduates, according to Lisa Metzinger, lead partner in the local office. She’s been with Cohen & Company her entire professional career – 16 years.
Metzinger attributes low turnover in the office to the quality of graduates from YSU, the love these employees have for the region and the supportive office atmosphere.
What’s appealing to YSU grads is they can remain in the Mahoning Valley where the cost of living is low, be near family and participate in the local culture while serving a national portfolio, Metzinger says.
“You can service a major client in New York City and go home and have Sunday dinner with the family,” she says.
Bellamy, Metzinger and senior staff launched the initiative to expand the Youngstown staff as demand increased for the business consulting practice, primarily among clients seeking guidance with the Paycheck Protection Program as well as Cares Act funding.
On July 1, there were 35 employees locally. In the last four months, 12 full-time employees have been hired. Twenty individuals have committed to joining the firm next year. A few job offers are pending, Metzinger says.
Staff retention is enhanced by community involvement, as typified by the “Cohen Cares” initiative, says Nicole Pavlansky, a senior tax accountant who has been with Cohen & Company three years. She supervises teams and trains new hires.
A group of employees from the local office recently visited nonprofit organizations to do volunteer work, Pavlansky says. Around the holidays, staff will go shopping for families in need.
“It’s really important to us that we support the community,” she says. “Leadership has instilled that in us.”
Community outreach is one reason why Pavlansky says she joined the firm after completing her internship. “It’s important to me and when I had the opportunity to join, I was excited,” she says.
Ron Cohen, the retired founder of Cohen & Company, believes that employees should give back where they can, Bellamy says. As such, employees are given a paid day off a year to volunteer within the community.
Serving on boards and fundraising committees outside the office helps to create a well-rounded staff that learns new skills and how to communicate with ease, Bellamy says.
And it makes for a fun work environment, Metzinger adds.
Expanding the staff in Youngstown will increase the amount of community service the local team is able to provide, and keep more of the firm’s resources invested locally, she says.
Matt Tomko, a graduate of YSU, has called Cohen & Company his work home for two years. He speaks on behalf of the firm at YSU events and enjoys participating in university activities.
“YSU provided me a lot of opportunity. So it’s my duty to return the favor,” Tomko says.
Accounting interns like to continue to work at Cohen because of the “work family” atmosphere, he says.
“That’s a big reason why students from YSU want to come here. It helps that they can work right in their own backyard” and still gain experience with national clients and other “large opportunities,” Tomko says.
“Everybody gets along. And that’s important to the students,” he adds. “There is a high of trust and transparency, which “propelled me greatly, learning from others.”
The way Cohen & Company nurtures its interns and employees contributes greatly to the firm’s success, affirms YSU President Jim Tressel.
“YSU is proud to partner with a company so committed to ensuring the region’s top talent elects to stay here and contribute to its continued growth and prosperity,” he says.
Raymond Shaffer, accounting professor at YSU, says many of his students represent the first generation in their family to attend college.
While YSU has a strong working relationship with all local accounting firms, students tend to gravitate to Cohen for the experience as well as the work-life balance promoted within the office, according to Shaffer.
“We try to prepare the students as best we can. But ultimately, it’s up to the student,” he says.
The firm seeks YSU students as young as sophomores for its internships. When the students work at the office, they are treated as colleagues, Metzinger says.
The hands-on work puts the interns two to three years ahead of their peers at graduation, Bellamy notes.
“After they graduate, typically with a master’s degree, they have 4,000 to 5,000 hours of professional experience,” he says.
Pictured: Lisa Metzinger, Nicole Pavlansky and Matt Tomko are employed in the Youngstown office of Cohen & Co. Standing next to Tomko is Chris Bellamy, president of the accounting firm. The local office is on a fast track to double the size of its staff.